Rockville three-alarm fire burns unfinished apartment complex

(Photo: Brad Freitas)

ROCKVILLE, MD. (WJLA) - One-hundred and fifty brand-new apartments were all pretty much destroyed after a raging fire ripped through a three-acre complex just after 4 o'clock this morning in Rockville.

NewsChopper 7 caught footage of the scene.

Fortunately, no one is was living in the building yet, as the units were almost finished being built, but people living in neighboring apartments in the same complex told ABC7 they were jolted out of bed.

"I came down to try to leave, and my neighbor told me, it's probably going to be another two hours [before I could leave] because they were fighting the fire," said Susan Henry, who lives in the building adjacent to the one that burned.

Fire officials said it's quite possible the massive fire burned for a while before the building's security company noticed it shooting through the roof.

"When I saw [the fire], I couldn't believe it," Henry added. "It's pretty bad."

A huge cloud of smoke billowed up into the still-dark sky, as heavy flames engulfed this large building and road closures snarled traffic as heavy equipment was quickly moved in.

Pete Piringer from Montgomery County Fire and Emergency Medical Services told ABC7 that more than 200 firefighters responded to the scene.

Crews had to work hard to fight the flames from spreading to other buildings nearby, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration, which is also housed there.

Another obstacle came in the form of being able to access the fire to fight it,

Perringer told ABC7 that. by the time a passing motorist noticed the fire and called it in, the flames had spread across most of the building and were working their way down. And, since there is no rear access big enough for a firetruck, first responders had to set up on an I-270 exit ramp to reach the worst of the fire.

All in all, officials said it was a stubborn fire, with{ } firefighters spending hours on ladders hosing down the building, trying to prevent hot spits from reigniting during such a windy day.

The building, which was just weeks away from being finished and was having appliances installed Tuesday, belongs to Atlanta-based Gables Residential. It may be a total loss, reaching upwards of $20 million.

But, as many residents and neighbors said Tuesday, people consider themselves lucky, as the fire didn't spread to occupied buildings and the biggest inconvenience was all the fire hoses blocking roadways, and preventing many from getting out of the neighborhood and on the road to work.

Officials said the cause of the fire is still unknown.

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